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Crash Calestorm

Hang Tree Flats

The ‘chemical learning’ concept was first introduced in the novel Spocks World (1988) by Diane Duane.


This pre-Launch character background story takes place in the year 2242, in between Cale’s (who is a Lieutenant Commander during this time period) instructor assignment at the Fleet Academy and prior to her taking on the posting of Second Officer for the USS San Pablo according to the classified information showing within the service section of her main biography.


= = = =


It had been just under six months since Commander Shauna Walking Coyote had taken on the Agent Extraction divisional program for the Intelligence department of Starfleet Command, and true to form, the auburn haired half Comanche human female had comported herself well as the programs lead officer.


Currently, the Commander found herself mingling with other officers based at Fleet command for various departments or functions as well as officer instructors who had taught classes at the Fleet academy; the yearly semester had just come to a conclusion, and Admiral Komack usually had an end of semester get together at the main command building for the staff and instructors.


Shauna smirked gently to herself as she gazed at her good friend and comrade, Ashton Marie Calestorm, from across the room. Cale was speaking in a quiet conversation with some of the other instructors, and had already gained a reputation among the student body at large as the teacher that the cadets hope they didn’t get, but there was probably no one else on the current helm and piloting instruction curriculum that could give the kids choosing to major in the disciplines a better education. If she happened to be a little tough on the kids with the assignments and workload, then so be it.


Coyote finished her drink, placed the glass on the tray of a passing server, and then began making her goodbyes and exit from the low key cocktail party, getting Cale’s attention in the process. After a series of fare thee well and pardon us as we take our leave directed at the other attendees from the two women, Commander Coyote and Lieutenant Commander Calestorm retired from the little get together in order to retreat to the relative safe haven of the Commander’s office under the pretense to ‘catch up on some old times’. In reality, Ash knew that Coyote was going to go over the specifics of an assignment that she had asked the lieutenant commander to take the lead role on.


Coyote had made it a habit of tapping old fellow officers and comrades that she had served with over the years when she needed a lead officer for a particular assignment, and Cale really couldn’t fault her friend for this practice; by recruiting people that she trusted and knew previously for these current assignments, Coyote knew full well the type of person that she was sending on the missions, and therefore could expect a margin of success. Cale didn’t necessarily trust Fleet Intel, but she did trust in Shauna and her work.


Once Coyote had settled in behind her desk, with Calestorm planting it in one of the guest desk chairs located directly across the desk from the commander, the slightly younger blond haired officer started the conversation ball rolling with a direct question at her auburn haired superior officer. “So, where am I traveling to Shauna, and what exactly does this Intel assignment entail?”


“This mission shouldn’t take any longer then two weeks duration, or however long it takes you to complete the assignment. It’s an extraction mission to Idiri K Five, a colony planet and outpost located on the fringe of the Mutara sector. Specifically, you’ll be working a territory on the Idiri surface known by the locals as Hang Tree Flats.”


A pause in conversation; that name was a new one on Ashton, yippee. “You send me to such nice vacation spots Commander Coyote."


Shauna just smirked and gave her friend a good natured wink. “Your extract target is one Lieutenant McQueen. He’s been undercover for us on K Five for the past eight months, posing as a local ruffian working for one of the livestock ranches. Idiri is one of the key bread basket production planets for the Federation at large. We’ve had some problems with raiders swooping down on the planet and rustling the local livestock and supplies scheduled for shipment, hence the need for agents inserted at various outposts, ranches and towns across the planet in an attempt to gather information on who the rustlers might be.”


Calestorm interrupted. “…It had better not be sheep. You know I can’t stand the buggers Shauna.”


Coyote waved a long fingered and strong hand through the air vaguely and smirked. “…not sheep, so don’t get yourself all worked up Ashton.”


“Has your Lieutenant McQueen gone rogue?”


“It’s nothing as dramatic as that, although it might make things a lot easier if we were dealing with an agent who was full on aware of what they were doing.”


Shauna ran a hand through her auburn brown hair and continued with the background explanation. “Like some, not all, of our agents in the Insertion and Intel gathering programs, in addition to straight on data research, he also took some chemical learning courses and hypos prior to shipping out on his assignment, to familiarize himself with the life and various duties that a hired ranch hand might carry out. We’re speculating he either overdosed while on the job with some supplemental hypos, or it just took all this time for the chemicals to interact with his system and he can’t handle the chemical buildup.”


The blond haired senior officer cocked her head to one side. “So you’re telling me I’m supposed to go pick up a Chem Head?”


“He’s not that fully gone yet, just confused and dropping out of the original mission parameters. His last transmittal report update was over three months ago, and it was a bit disjointed. The Intel doctors have dealt with the condition enough to recognize the pre-signs, and that was one of them. The Lieutenant missed his last check in, and it’s been over a month now. Now that I’m sure that he needs a pull out, I have the authorization to send someone in after him. That’s where you come in Crash.”


“So he overdosed. Any chance he compromised your Idiri mission at large?”


“This incident isn’t nearly that far reaching, and McQueen hasn’t been undercover long enough to cause any sort of serious repercussions if he’s pulled out, because the ranch workers come and go regularly anyway with the seasonal work; we’ll just insert a secondary officer in another few months. Yes, we’re speculating that he overdosed, and got in a bit too deep. Good junior agent, I’m not faulting him for the havoc the chemicals are causing with his system, I only wish our doctors caught it either prior to him being inserted or earlier then this. Go in, track him, and get him out Cale. Obviously, the whole situation gets a bit tricky since you can’t blow his cover or any of the other agents that he’s had contact with.”


Coyote reached over to the side, opened a drawer set flush into a filing cabinet sitting next to the desk, and fished a red hued data slate to hand it over to Calestorm. “Your insertion cover will be as a contract bounty hunter sent to collect the Lieutenant, who is known as Randy Dillon to the Hang Tree locals, on some sort of grand theft charges that we’ll sprinkle about the local and galactic police networks. The step by step details and information are all contained on that slate that I just gave you…”


Ashton put a finger up in the air in a mild protest on her free hand as she took the data device with the other hand. “Now wait a minute Shauna -- you know I’m no bounty hunter.”


“I know. But what I do know is that you have training on how to ride a horse, can use a ballistic weapon for defense, and have experience with tracking and camping out, and all of these skills will serve you well on the Hangtree…”


“…okay, that name really doesn’t conjure up happy thoughts you know…”


“…mission. Idiri Five is far removed from the main cargo lanes, and is very much a throwback to the classic frontier concept. The atmosphere has some ionization that can play havoc with most modern equipment, so there’s that need for adaptation. The locals rely on either hover flitter vehicles or Earth horses to move about most of the planetary surface or a local saddle animal called a Raptor: a big two legged flightless bird, pretty much looks like a parrot and a hawk got together, did the nasty, and had a kid.”


Ashton gave a chuckle at that one and favored Shauna with a smile. “Okay, that’s a mental image I did not need, but thank you for the information on that particular species of saddle animal Commander. What exactly do I do once I track down this man?”


“No matter how far gone the Lieutenant is, his safe words are Katinga Alpha Five. Say ‘em out loud to him, in that sequence, and he’ll completely snap back into reality. All our chemical agents are required to have a safe phrase for implementation in case of a situation like this.”


“…and these safe words’ll make it all better? What if he doesn’t quote, snap back into reality and come along all quietly?”


“It’s the chemicals, not him. If the code doesn’t work, then jab him with the counter toxic hypo we give you. Bring McQueen home anyway you can Crash, relatively unharmed and protected, so we can debrief and detoxify him.”


Ashton Calestorm gave a precise nod of her head towards her now commanding officer, and then said, “Aye Commander. Let’s get down to business, shall we?”


= = = =


The next two weeks were a maelstrom of activity as the plans for the extraction operation were set in motion and Calestorm prepped and got ready for her upcoming mission to the Mutara sector.


From the little details on up through the so called important details, a working cover that Ash could use to her advantage was all fleshed out and then put into place within the information networks. She worked, ate and was with Coyote constantly during the preparation phase, and the two of them began to joke about the possibility of sleeping together since they were spending so much time together.


Regardless, bawdy joking aside, there was work to be done in order for the extraction assignment to work out as smoothly as possible for all of the officers involved with the field work. The one thing that surprised Cale the most was the use of her real name -- Ashton Marie Calestorm -- and most of her background, including her call sign, Crash, for her biography dossier that would be distributed on the networks along with all of the other planted information. She canted a curious eyebrow towards her friend and used that gesture as a silent question.


“It wouldn’t be unusual for a Starfleet officer with your background to go into this sort of work: working for the local galactic law, yet also on your own as a freelancer. Sometimes, the closer to the truth that the details are, the easier it is for the agent being inserted to work. With Lieutenant McQueen slash Dillon, we didn’t have that option, as he needed a completely new personality and background so to speak in order to blend into the local rough and ready Idiri frontier culture. But with you Ash we can pretty much use you as you are.”


And so, Cale was to be a former Fleet officer turned freelance contract bounty hunter sometimes employed by the local sector police forces to track down various criminals and perps that had skipped out on bail. As long as she played her cards right and immersed herself fully into the contract bounty hunter cover that Coyote had put in place for her over the communications wireless network, this extraction job promised to be easy going and a total milk run.


= = = =


One week later, Ashton had arrived at Idiri Five by courier shuttle, and after procuring a room at a local boarding establishment located within the main town square, had immediately set about the best way to find and locate McQueen. She made contact with the outpost’s local sheriff as soon as she could, and told him of her intentions to apprehend Lieutenant McQueen, or as he was known on Idiri, Randy Dillon.


Hang Tree Flats had been established a few years ago after the nearest main city had been built and squared away; over the intervening years, the camp had become less a camp and more a layover point for any workers and travelers who were heading out to either dilithium mining camps, farms, or livestock ranches scattered across the lush surface of the world. This so called ‘First Camp’ was about ten miles outside of the main city and boasted about thirty or so residences, businesses, a small hospital, equipment rental and purchase stores, and entertainment and drinking establishments that compromised an area equivalent to a twenty block city sector grid, and the buildings were one to four or five stories tall. There were also a bunch of sturdy canvas and plexi frame tents scattered about the perimeter as well. The layout and buildings of the larger campsite, even though it was thoroughly modern, evoked memories of a frontier culture.


Ashton wore the typical garb of a frontier planet denizen: blue jeans, comfortable work boots, long sleeved work shirt, camel colored canvas jacket for protection from the elements. She had opted for a non descript baseball cap for further protection, but had chosen a cap rather then the typical cowboy hat that some of the Idiri locals used because, to be honest, Cale didn’t want to look like a refugee cowgirl or something.


For the most part, the town residents, and the local marshal or sheriff or police chief or whatever you wanted to call him, Hunter Willis, had accepted her as she appeared and apparently the sight of some sort of bounty hunter or police representative arriving within the Hang Tree territory or one of the other areas of Idiri wasn’t an unusual occurrence what with the local culture sometimes attracting the seedier galactic element who might be on the run from the law. Not all, but in some cases this was the truth.


She currently sat in a guest chair directly across from the local lawman, who sat behind his pitted and scarred stainless steel desk on the office’s only other desk chair. The office was the typical establishment of a frontier lawman: wanted posters, both hardcopy and holographic wanted posters and alerts were hung on a bulletin board along one plasti-steel wall, and a modern computer sat on a spare desk towards the back of the office. The two were enjoying a mug of coffee with one another, and Ashton had to admit, the dark skinned make sheriff made a good cup of java.


“I suggest you stay right here in town Ms. Calestorm instead of traipsing all across the known country side; you have good timing, as the Chevron Ranch workers, and probably Dillon, are due in end of this week.”


He looked at her, his keen blue eyes showing the intelligence of one who had worked within the protection services most of his life. “You want some backup when you go for this Randy Dillon?”


“Thank you Sheriff, but I’ll pass on the assistance. I think it’s best if I go in and grab him myself. I will ask though that you post some of your assistants about the town perimeter, you know, in case a few of his buddies get a notion?”


The less people involved with the actual extraction, the better. Oh sure, you couldn’t account for every factor and situation, but a field agent could do their best to minimize exposure and any unforeseen problems. That meant that Sheriff Willis would either make this very, very easy for her, or if he were the territorial sort of local protection officer, very, very hard.


As it stood, this Willis was of the very, very easy sort, and he agreed to let Cale take the lead point on the sting operation in his town. “Will do. You have my word that myself and my deputies won’t interfere with your operation.”


She raised her coffee mug in salute. “Thank you Mister Willis. The co-operation is very much appreciated.


= = = =


Ashton had hung around the main outpost for a little under a week, biding her time and playing her role as the contract bounty hunter to the letter. Most of her time was spent in what amounted to the local saloon and gaming house, gathering information and keeping tabs on the local goings on while she wiled away the hour’s playing cards or three dee video games and the like.


She had no idea if anyone else was a fellow Fleet officer or not, planted in the town, and that was the way that Fleet Intel worked things. The less you knew, the better for the overall picture that concerned your end of the assignment or mission would work out.


Eventually, her patience paid off and her extraction target arrived in town and made a bee line for the saloon, unconsciously playing out his assigned role as a young hell raiser to the letter just as Cale was consciously playing out her bounty hunter role. She even managed to get into a pick up card game with him and a few other hands and workers from the ranch where he had been hired/inserted before all the young bucks retired upstairs to the rooms for a romp with the various ‘ladies and men of the saloon’ that were employed on site for the purpose of lovemaking. There were still some so called unrespectable joints out there who employed the real thing rather then holographic prostitutes.


But then again, Ashton was not there to judge. She was there to do her job. She waited a good two hours or so for the boys (and a few girls as well, mind you) from the Chevron ranch to get settled into a stupor both from the alcohol and their partners for the evening. Once she was completely sure and confident that the time was right, she made her move.


Calestorm crept down the corridor, moving quietly past the locked and closed doorways that led into the rooms located on the upper level of the establishment. Her ballistic weapon was out and cocked, but the gun was loaded with blanks, and really, Ash had not gone into this mission with the intention of shooting anyone if it could be completely avoided. Just because you were hip deep in a futuristic town version of the Old West, that was no reason to lose your head and go off half cocked and such.


She arrived at G7 (she had slipped the bartender a couple of credits to find out what room McQueen/Dillon had been assigned to along with his girl) and lightly pressed an ear to the door; the unmistakable sounds of two people in the throes of lovemaking drifted out from within. “Ohhh….Mister Dillon…”


She muttered under her breath, “Oh, this won’t be embarrassing at all.”


She lifted up her booted foot and then slammed it full on into the locking mechanism on the entryway door, shattering the keypad and swinging the door open. The lanky and athletic undercover officer ducked into the room and was greeted by the sight of McQueen/Dillon and his girl for the night, both completely naked and sprawled out on the bed.


“Mister Dillon, pleased to make your acquaintance. Now, I need you to be a good boy and come with me. We have an appointed with the Katinga Alpha Five outpost police department.”


She saw a blank look and then comprehension fall across Lieutenant McQueen’s rugged features; he slipped a furtive look laced with some concern (as in, how in the hell did I end up in bed with her?!) to his current bed partner, who was completely confused and staring at Calestorm with equal parts anger and confusion warring on her pretty and young features.


“And as for you, Miss…wait, don’t tell me: your name is Miss Kitty, right sweetie? I suggest you remove yourself from the immediate area for right …”


For a ‘lady of the night’, ‘Miss Kitty’ had a pretty good right cross and she moved like a damn cat: Cale never knew what hit her. Miss Kitty was off the bed and rushing Cale with no warning whatsoever, despite the Lieutenant calling out a frantic “No wait! Trixie!” at the leaping female.


The shorter woman rammed into Cale and sent her flying back out into the corridor to slam into the far wall. Before Ashton could recover, Trixie’s fist impacted square on with Ashton’s lower lip. The pain exploded from the now split lip, and then she tasted coppery blood. As she was completely unprepared for the hit when it came, the blow knocked her flat, and another pain to contend with exploded from her tailbone on up when her rump hit the flooring. Her weapon flew somewhere off to the right and she thought she heard clattering as it bounced down the staircase, discharging a few blanks here and there as it bounced and the hair trigger was, well, triggered.


Somewhere, within a section of her brain that wasn’t occupied with the current situation as it played out all around her, came a detached thought of: Stun capsules. Definitely stun capsules next time. No, no, scratch that; there will be no next time, thank you very flippin’ much.


Ashton tried to stumble upright, but Psycho Whore threw either an empty bottle or a lamp or something blunt at her which impacted with her shoulder and sent her sprawling down again.


The little so and so went for a sawed off concealed in one if the bedside nightstands, rushed out into the corridor again, cocked the shotgun as she ran, and then unloaded the first and second barrels in quick succession in Cale’s general direction; the rock salt (thank you, dear God, minus the projectile bullets) ripped through her jacket and shirt and a good bit of the pellets caught her square on in her left side (Um…that would be a big owie) and Cale went down again with a pained yelp. The scene had degraded into chaos, and Ashton’s visions of riding in on said white horse and saving the day and doing a smooth extract job pretty much disintegrated on the air.


By now though, a few of McQueen/Dillon’s worker ‘buddies’ from the Chevron were trying (surprisingly) to contain the situation thanks to shouted directions from the undercover El Tee; McQueen had obviously realized from Cale’s presence that the two of them had to pull out, and the best way to do that was to stay in character as much as possible so as to avoid tipping off any of the townies or ranch workers.


One of the other ranch workers, a young and gawky blond haired kid with a goatee, was talking some sense into the irate girl Trixie and had managed to get her calmed down to a dull roar. Well, at least he had got the saloon employee calmed down to the point where she didn’t want to take anymore chunks out of Crash’s hide.


Ashton knew that the whole situation had further degraded into a minor cluster frell when the local ruffians had started going all concerned and saying things to her such as ‘you really should get that lip looked at’ and ‘get those injuries tended to’. And, to add insult to literal injury, Lieutenant McQueen, who had been her responsibility and whole reason for this undercover extraction operation, had gotten her off the floor and was now pretty much helping Cale stand upright. Embarrassing, totally embarrassing. Sheriff Willis had finally arrived on the scene, no doubt after staying away long enough to allow Calestorm time to do her work…such as it was and had panned out.


With what remained of her dignity, bleeding lip and various bruises and contusions aside, she looked right at him, playing out the extraction plan to the letter, and said, “I’m taking this man into my custody.”


The local sheriff of Hang Tree Flats paused for a couple beats, looking from the relatively unharmed McQueen/Dillon to the most definitely ripped up Ashton, and couldn’t help commenting and getting a bit of a good natured dig in. “Miss, are you sure you’re taking him in? Looks to me that he’s the one holding you upright right now …”


From somewhere within the crowd that had gathered on the main floor of the saloon, a young though confident voice rang out, “Sheriff Willis! I can explain part of what happened tonight! I got a little carried away…”


He waved a gentle hand towards the saloon employee. “Trixie, we can handle …”


Calestorm practically leaped out of her raw and abused skin, causing Lieutenant McQueen/Dillon to hold onto her a bit tighter.


“Oh Dear Lord! Get her away from me! Is she armed!? Rocksalt?! Take any blunt objects away from her!”


= = = =


Within twenty four hours, Calestorm and her extraction officer charge had posted payment and gotten seats on an outbound courier shuttle flight where they would catch a straight run shuttle flight back to Federation space and eventually Fleet headquarters.


She was far from a happy camper however when communications contact had been established with Commander Coyote, and the commander practically spewed out the mouthful of coffee she had been drinking when she caught sight of Calestorm on her desktop video monitor. Ashton had a split lower lip, a lurid purple bruise stretching across her cheek and left eye, and wore a sports bra in deference to her abraded and bandaged side…and these were the visible bruises.


“Oh my God. Crash, what happened to you?”


Cale growled. Yes. Growled.


“Commander Shauna Meredith Walking Coyote. I was attacked and punched out by a who -- lady of the night, shot by said lady with rock salt, and had to deal with McQueen over here who is decidedly not a medical officer as he patched me up. You and I will be having words about this little assignment once he and I return. We’ll be back in main Federation space in two days time. Lieutenant Commander Calestorm, out.”


And with no further explanation, the visual and audio communications link from Ashton’s end went dead as her fellow officer cut the wireless signal from her end, leaving Coyote staring at a blank computer screen backlit by the Starfleet symbol.


“Oh dear…”

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